Birthdays are a moment of happiness and celebration but for those who have experienced a lockdown birthday, there is little doubt that any joy has been bittersweet indeed.
“I miss my friends!” was the starting point for the outpouring of emotion from my daughter as she celebrated her seventeenth last month.
Despite her and our best efforts to make the most of a teenage birthday in isolation; the hundreds of social media shout outs online from friends and family; the impromptu social distancing visits from her friends with gifts and Happy Birthday mentions from her online TikTok buddies whose spirits she has bolstered herself over the last couple of months with her comical videos, a virtual house party in her room just didn’t quite cut it.
Sitting on her bed at the end of the night, she cried as she described her sadness at the scenario we are all living right now, but more particularly those of her and her mates – our young teens.
I reached out as is always the way of a mum, for a hug, a gesture of reassurance on my part but one she didn’t want or rather couldn’t handle.
“Don’t touch me.”
Cut to the quick I withdrew. Her words I knew were not personal but came from a deep point of loneliness and a fear of perhaps increased sadness.
There are many stories circulating about the impact of the lockdown resulting from Covid-19 on our mental health and particularly on that of our young people. Their lives halted in their prime, they have been forced to accommodate a new way of life and living very rapidly.
As elders perhaps we haven’t found it so tough. I know I haven’t.
My home is my workplace, my sanctuary, it has always been my norm, so lockdown gave me a reason to batten down the hatches even further and kick back and enjoy the lack of stress sometimes imposed by the outside world.
My husband who travels most of the year was suddenly at home 24/7. There has been much for me to love in this scenario and nesting more has provided me with the comfort and security I needed to survive the storms around me.
Yet whilst our teens enjoy chilling with us on a normal basis, i.e.between school and parties, without the option to physically get out and hook up with friends at all for days and weeks at a time, their anxiety levels have certainly risen.
Friends and freedom are the things they miss the most. They are after all the bedrock of their existence at this formative age. Striving for independence and searching for connections are what really define those teenage years of growing up. Suddenly deprived of those, it feels as if their world has shrivelled and robbed them of the stuff of memories.
It’s tough as a parent at the best of times and the teenage years require a certain skill set; a diplomatic parental compass as you guide them through the inevitable ups and downs of the physical and mental hurdles they encounter. It’s a constant navigational challenge as you steer them away from the bad and towards the best bits of themselves.
Every family’s journey will have been different over the last few months and as parents we will have just tried our very best to get to the other end in one piece. In truth despite the vast quantity of top tips to help us there is no perfect solution and no easy answer.
From a personal perspective, now a few weeks further on, with the easing of restrictions, my young teen is reveling in the option to escape to an outside space and hang out with her mates. It’s no great parenting secret that teenagers need to be with their peers. My daughter feels normal again. Connected. She returns smiling, glowing and with stories that make us laugh out loud.
Maybe there is some light in this story of restriction. Our teens are learning to enjoy the basic stuff in life; sitting, chatting without external stimulus. I don’t know about you but it reminds me of my own youth. It’s early days but perhaps they will all come out the other end with a greater appreciation of what really matters.
In the meantime there is little doubt missing friends and freedom is a sentiment shared by young and old in summarising the personal frustrations of the lockdown. “Friendship is a sheltering tree.” Coleridge. Even if we can’t hug them, friendships are our saving grace right now and pull us out of those dark places, whatever our age.